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36                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
the photograph for some time and then wrapped it up
again in the piece of cellophane, put it back into the
envelope, held it in his hand thoughtfully for a moment,
and returned it to his pocket.
"Never mind, everything will be all right, he said,
whether to the girl or to himself it is hard to say. And
thoughtfully he repeated: "Never mind-----"
Now, with an accustomed movement, he whipped off
his fur boots, unwound the strips of woollen scarf and
examined his feet. They were more swollen, the toes
spread in all directions; the feet looked like inflated
rubber bladders and were even of a darker colour than
they had been the day before.
Alexei sighed, cast a farewell glance at the dying fire
and again laboured on, his sticks crunching the ice-hard
snow. He proceeded, biting his lips and sometimes almost
losing consciousness. Suddenly, amidst the usual sounds
of the forest to which his ears had already grown so
accustomed that they almost failed to catch them, he
heard the distant throbbing of automobile engines. At
first he thought this was a hallucination due to his
weariness, but the sounds grew louder, now running at
low gear and now subsiding. Evidently they were Ger-
mans, and they were going in his direction. Alexei at
once felt a coldness in his stomach.
Fear lent him strength. Forgetting his weariness and
the pain in his feet, he turned off the road and made for
a fir thicket. He crawled into its depths and dropped on to
the snow. It was difficult, of course, to see him from the
road, but he could see the road distinctly, lit up by the
midday sun that was already high above the spiked fence
of fir-tree tops,
The sounds drew nearer. Alexei remembered that his
lone trail was distinctly visible on the road that he had
abandoned, but it was too late to attempt to go farther
away, the engine of the leading vehicle was heard quite
close now. Alexei pressed deeper into the snow. Through
the branches he saw a flat, wedge-shaped, whitewashed
armoured car. Swaying, its chains clanging, it drew near
to where Alexei's trail turned off the road. Alexei held
his breath. The armoured car rolled on. It was followed
by a general-purpose car. Somebody in a high-peaked